Founder Rev. Elias Camp Morris
Merger of Foreign Mission Baptist Convention (org. 1880) American National Baptist Convention (org. 1886) National Baptist Education Convention (org. 1893)
The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (National Baptist Convention) is the largest predominantly African-American Christian denomination in the United States. It is headquartered at the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The denomination claims approximately 31,000 congregations.
- Convention founding
- History of the National Baptist presidency
- Splits in the Convention
- Congress of Christian Education
- Sunday School Publishing Board
- Laymen's Movement
- Women's Auxiliary
- Position on women pastors, ministers and deacons
- Same sex marriage and LGBT issues
- Charismatic movement
- Dual alignment
- Joint Convention
- Higher education institution affiliates
The Convention reports having an estimated 7.5 million members.
The root of cooperative efforts began in the Antebellum period. Both free blacks and slaves were welcomed into the Baptist Church by missionaries in the First Great Awakening, and the second Awakening in the early 19th century brought in more members. Independent Black Baptist churches were formed in Petersburg, Virginia and Savannah, Georgia before the American Civil War. Under the slave societies of the South, they had to belong to white Baptist associations. Black congregations were required by law to have white ministers and supervision by law, especially after the slave rebellion of Nat Turner in 1831.
The first attempts at wider black cooperative efforts began in the North, with Ohio and Illinois leading the way. In 1834 Black Baptists in Ohio formed the Providence Baptist Association. In 1838, following the lead of the Baptists of Ohio, Illinois Black Baptists formed the Wood River Baptist Association.
As early as 1840, Black Baptists sought to develop a cooperative movement beyond state lines. Baptists in New York and the Middle Atlantic states formed the American Baptist Missionary Convention. The spirit of cooperation beyond state lines soon spread westward. In 1864, during the Civil War, the Black Baptists of the West and South organized the Northwestern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 1866, following the war, these two conventions met with the American Baptist Convention and formed the Consolidated American Baptist Convention. One of the great successes of the new Consolidated American Baptist Convention was the support given to black Baptists in the South to form state conventions. Black Baptists in the former Confederacy overwhelmingly left white-dominated churches to form independent congregations and get away from white supervision.
After emancipation, Black Baptists in the South, with the support of the Consolidated Convention, formed their own state conventions. Among these were Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Despite the pioneer work of the Consolidated Convention, regionalism continued among Black Baptists. In 1873 the Black Baptists of the West formed the General Association of the Western States and Territories, and in 1874 the East organized the New England Baptist Missionary Convention. This continued regionalism and other factors caused the decline and eventual demise of the Consolidated American Baptist Convention.
According to historian Wilson Fallin Jr., black preachers interpreted the Civil War as:
God's gift of freedom. They appreciated opportunities to exercise their independence, to worship in their own way, to affirm their worth and dignity, and to proclaim the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Most of all, they could form their own churches, associations, and conventions. These institutions offered self-help and racial uplift, and provided places where the gospel of liberation could be proclaimed. As a result, black preachers continued to insist that God would protect and help him; God would be their rock in a stormy land.
In 1880, about 150 Baptist pastors met in Montgomery, Alabama, and formed the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention. The formation of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention was to some degree a result of the demise of the Consolidated American Baptist Convention. The Consolidated Convention's death created a vacuum in mission work, especially for African missions. In response to this void, William W. Colley of Virginia, who had served as missionary to Nigeria under the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1870s, issued a call for Black Baptists to meet in Montgomery, Alabama, in order to organize a national convention to do extensive foreign missionary work.
At the initial 1880 meeting, William H. McAlpine of Alabama was elected President of the Foreign Mission Convention; he is considered the first President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Subsequently, two other national Black conventions were formed.
In 1886, William J. Simmons of Kentucky led the formation of the American National Baptist Convention. In 1893 W. Bishop Johnson of Washington, D.C. led the formation of the National Baptist Education Convention. The desire to have one convention remained alive and the movement reached its fruition on September 24, 1895 at the Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, when these three conventions came together to form the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America. The heart of the new convention was that the three former conventions serve as the three boards of the convention: Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Education.
History of the National Baptist presidency
E. C. Morris was elected president of the National Baptist Convention USA in 1895 and served for 27 years. His tenure was important for laying the foundation of the Convention. In addition to managing growth and organization of new chapters, his presidency founded the National Baptist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee. Blacks wanted to publish literature written by their own ministers.
In 1890, the American Baptist Publication Society had refused to publish writings of Black ministers because of resistance from their White Southern clients. This event, more than any other, inspired Blacks to develop their own Convention and publishing arm. One year after the formation of the Convention, the National Baptist Publication Board was established under the leadership of Richard Boyd in Nashville, Tennessee. It was given the right to supply National Baptist churches with general ministry and Sunday School supplies. In a short time the publishing house became the largest Black publishing enterprise in the world.
In 1902, the Woman's State Convention of Tennessee elected African American Virginia E. Walker Broughton, to serve as the first woman National Corresponding Secretary for the National Baptist Convention.
The twenty-seven years of Morris' leadership represented the formative period for the Convention.
Upon the death of E. C. Morris, L. K. Williams became President of the Convention in 1924. During his 16 years' tenure, he expanded the publishing board to gain increased support. Williams appointed L. G. Jordan as General Secretary of the Board and laid plans for a new building. The building was opened for inspection in 1925. On the recommendation of Williams, it was named the Morris Building in honor of the legacy of E. C. Morris. A Layman's Department was also established.
David V. Jemison succeeded Williams as President of the Convention in 1940. His two major accomplishments during his 13 years were paying off the mortgage on the Morris Memorial Building and the purchase of the Bath House for African-American use in the resort of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Facilities were still racially segregated in that state.
In 1953, Joseph H. Jackson of Chicago became President, serving until 1982. His 29-year tenure was the longest of any President, and spanned some of the most active years of the Civil Rights Movement. During these years, African Americans gained passage of federal laws protecting and enforcing their rights to public access and voting, especially in the South. Among President Jackson's many contributions were new commissions and restructuring of the convention. He also purchased the National Baptist Freedom Farm and set up an unrestricted scholarship at Roosevelt University. He was noted for low tolerance of dissent. He said that social protests were not enough, but people needed to prove their economic productivity as well.
In 1983, T. J. Jemison became President of the Convention, serving for 12 years. He completed construction of the Baptist World Center; a Headquarters for the Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. He spoke out on public issues more than some presidents, and expressed his opposition to the Gulf War. In a controversial statement, he spoke in favor of the noted African-American boxer Mike Tyson, who had been convicted of rape. The uproar caused by Jemison's remarks translated into a deep decline of membership and associated churches in the convention in 1992. Later presidents built up the national convention again.
Henry Lyons of Florida was elected President in 1994. The Lyons tenure was characterized by much activity as he established a Unified Program, reduced the debt on the Baptist World Center, and dissolved the debt on the Sunday School Publishing Board. In addition, many commissions were added to the convention. Legal problems, however, forced Lyons to resign from the presidency. Lyons ran again for President in 2009 with National Congress President, R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee, Florida, as his Vice-President. They were defeated.
Stewart Cleveland Cureton, Vice President-At-Large, took over the leadership of the Convention in 1999 and served the remainder of Lyons' tenure. In 1999, William J. Shaw of Philadelphia was elected as president, serving until 2009. His presidency was centered on the motto and theme 'V.I.S.A': "Vision, Integrity, Structure and Accountability." He worked hard to reestablish integrity and credibility in the Convention, making it a leader for the work of Christ in the nation.
Julius R. Scruggs of Huntsville, Alabama was elected President in 2009 and served one 5-year term. He did not seek re-election. In September 2014, Jerry Young of Mississippi was elected President; he is expected to bring a progressive air to the office.
Splits in the Convention
In 1897, during the Morris Administration, a group of National Baptist pastors left the convention and formed the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. The separation was centered on two issues: the location of the foreign mission board and greater cooperation with White Baptists.
The second split, also during Morris's Presidency, came in 1915 over ownership and operation of the Publishing Board. The Publishing Board was the most successful agency and was led by R. H. Boyd. Leaders and pastors of the Convention became suspicious of the actions of the Publishing Board when they did not receive the reports they thought due them. A debate ensued concerning the ownership.
Those who supported Boyd and his view that the Board was independent of the Convention formed the National Baptist Convention of America. It became known as the Unincorporated Convention (now National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.). Because of the question of incorporation, leaders who remained in the original Convention led a movement to incorporate their organization. The Constitution was amended in 1916 and the convention was later incorporated, taking the name of National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
During the Joseph Jackson tenure, a third split occurred in the Convention. The two key issues were tenure and the lack of support of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, known for increased public activism, demonstrations and protests was highly controversial in many Baptist churches. Often the ministers preached spiritual salvation rather than political activism. Jackson, the Convention's autocratic leader, had supported the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956, but by 1960 he told the members they should not become involved in civil rights activism. Based in Chicago, Jackson was a close ally of Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago Democratic machine. He opposed public activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his aide, the young Jesse Jackson, Jr. (no relation to Joseph Jackson). Gardner C. Taylor of New York challenged Jackson for the Presidency, but lost.
After Jackson was re-elected, a group led by L. Venchael Booth formed a new Convention at the Zion Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961. They named themselves as the Progressive National Baptist Convention. These activists supported the extensive activism of the King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1992 Paul S. Morton of New Orleans, Louisiana formed a fellowship within the convention. It was named the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. It explored spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, prophecy, exclamatory worship, etc. The leadership of this fellowship later separated completely from the Convention.
Congress of Christian Education
The National Baptist Congress of Christian Education is the training arm of the Convention. It is an annual event, held in June, that draws more than 50,000 attendees from around the country and the world. The Congress includes over 300 classes, lectures and group discussion panels targeted and relevant to every age group and every area of the Christian Church and Ministry.
Sunday School Publishing Board
The Sunday School Publishing Board is the official publisher of the Convention and provides all of the educational resources of the convention. The Publishing Board was founded in 1915 and is one of the largest African American owned publishing companies. The Publishing Board supplies books, text books, curriculum and other resources to over 36,000 churches.
The National Baptist Laymen’s Movement of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc. was organized at the Forty-third Session of the National Baptist Convention in Los Angeles, California, in 1923. The new President of the Convention, L. K. Williams presided. The Movement came into existence under the leadership of Deacon John L. Webb, a Christian businessman from Hot springs, Arkansas. John Webb served as the first president of the organization and continued in that position until his death in 1946.
Webb in his open letter to national laymen, appearing in the August 30, 1924 issue of the National Baptist Voice stated the long range objectives of the Movement: "And wherever the Laymen’s Movement is organized, the spirit of it will be to see that the pastor is well paid; and to foster and encourage by words and our money the institutions of learning that have made space for Theological Departments, so as to have a better educated ministry, better Sunday School Superintendents, teachers, and B.Y.P.U. workers throughout our denomination.:
The first annual session of the Laymen’s Movement was held September 10–15, 1924 in Nashville, Tennessee. The second annual session was held September 10–11, 1925 at the Econ Baptist church in Baltimore, Maryland. At the end of the second session twenty-five laymen, five ministers and five persons representing other church organizations had been official registrants.
His Vice President-at-Large Brother J. C. McClendon of Jackson, Mississippi, succeeded John L. Webb. After serving six years he was succeeded by his Vice President-at-Large, Brother Allen Jordan of Brooklyn, New York. In the annual session of 1971 in Cleveland, Ohio, Jordan turned the reins over the his Vice President-at-Large, Deacon Walter Cade, Jr. of Kansas City, Kansas.
During the tenure of Walter Cade, Jr., many laymen ministries and programs were birthed. The Regional Workshop concept was started in 1971. The Allen Jordan Seminars for laymen was started in 1981 during the annual Congress of Christian Education. The Junior Laymen Basketball Tournament and Bible Bowl were started in 1981. The Junior Laymen’s convention was moved from the September session to the June session in 1981. The national laymen became involved in the Men’s Department of the World Baptist Alliance. The laymen made their first work-witness trip to Africa to repair the convention’s mission stations in 1976.
Following Walter Cade, Jr. was Jerry Gash of Los Angeles, California. Under Jerry Gash’s leadership he initiated the process of membership to identify the active laymen in the movement. He started the Male Chorus Sing-off and two mission projects for Africa, 25,000 pairs of shoes and 75,000 school supplies. Jerry Gash started the Southern Region Workshop in 1997.
Glen Chelf of New Mexico served on an interim basis in 2000. Harold Simmons of Kansas City, Kansas was appointed president of the Laymen's Movement by William Shaw in 2000 to succeed Glen Chelf.
Laymen Presidents 1923 - 1945 John L. Webb 1946 - 1952 J. C. McClendon 1953 - 1970 Allen Jordan 1971 - 1994 Walter Cade, Jr. 1995 - 2000 Jerry Gash 2000 - 2000 Glen Chelf 2000 - 2014 Harold Simmons
The first President, Sarah Willie Layten, was the daughter of William H. and Mary H. Phillips. She was a graduate of LeMoyne College in Tennessee, honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority and active member of the Woman's National Republican Committee. She accepted the challenge to be President of the newly formed Woman's Convention at a time when Woman's suffrage was a big issue in the country and the need for a separate Woman's convention was hotly contested in the National Baptist Convention. Yet, both she and the Woman's Convention persevered with faith, prayer, planning and a spirit of meekness. Layten helped to establish the National Baptist Missionary Training School at Nashville, Tennessee and helped to maintain missionaries on both the home and foreign fields. Her service expanded almost 50 years (1900-1948)
The second President, Nannie Helen Burroughs, first served as Corresponding Secretary to the Woman's Convention over 40 years. It has been said, "Where she led, people followed." She was the only child of parents who were born into slavery. She was a member of numerous civic organizations, a prolific orator and author of several books and publications. Mary Olivia Brooks Ross was the third President of the Woman's Auxiliary, serving from 1961 through 1995. She was born to the parentage of Professor Brookins and Mrs. B (Beatrice Brookins), both educators. She married Solomon David Ross, who was the pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church of Detroit for 39 years. Ross taught school after earning her B.A. from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and doing graduate studies at Michigan and Wayne State Universities. She was a world traveler, participant in many Christian education and Baptist organizations and author or co-author of a list of literature. Ross was a public servant, pioneer in social issue advocacy and strong supporter of youth and young adults. She received many awards, citations and Honorary Degrees for untiring efforts in the fields of Christian Education and Public Service.
Cynthia Perry Ray, the fourth President who served the Convention from 1995 until 2000, was former First Vice-President to Ross. She was born to Walter and Beatrice Perry of Penllyn, Pennsylvania. She was an integral part of her Christian and civic community. She held several leadership positions in the Woman's Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and also was elected Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1995, serving in that post until the year 2000. Ray, known as a "Presider", characterized by a butterfly conversion and commitment to a new life with Christ continued many programs with the Literature Department, Women in White, and Camp Program. She instituted the Baptist Day of Prayer, Living Legacy and Love Kitchen. She too has passed on from labor to reward, and, like her predecessors, lives on in our hearts, minds and spirits.
Rosa Burrell Cooper served as president from 2001 to 2004. She began her service with the statement, "Together we can do it through Mission, Evangelism and Education." She stated: "I believe that as President of the Woman's Auxiliary, it is my mission to provide intelligent, articulate and responsive leadership in promoting spiritual growth of Christian women across the United States of America. To that end, I am committed to fostering and promoting group spiritual growth and personal development through programs which interpret, teach and apply the living and life-giving Word of our God."
The current president, Hugh Dell Gatewood began her official service in January 2005.
Position on women pastors, ministers and deacons
The convention does not make official positions binding on its member congregations, state conventions, and institutions. There are 1000s of women ordained and/or licensed and serving in the convention affiliated congregations. A number of women serve as pastors of congregations, and as trustees to the boards of American Baptist College. Some congregations do not ordain or license women as ministers. Some congregations have women deacons, others as deaconess, some have both. Congregations are autonomous in matters of local governance.
Same-sex marriage and LGBT issues
"The National Baptist Convention USA Inc. does not have an 'official' position on any issues with regards to homosexuality", and, therefore, each autonomous congregation remains able to determine local policy. While the denomination does not have an official policy, the national convention only defines marriage as between a man and a woman. As a result, military chaplains receiving their endorsement through the national convention are not permitted to perform same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, given the denomination's diversity, some pastors and congregations have spoken out in favor of gay marriage. Some pastors and congregations affiliated with National Baptist Convention Inc. USA announced their support for same-sex marriage.
The National Baptist Convention does not have any official beliefs or standpoints regarding Pentecostal and Charismatic expressions of worship in their churches' services or in their meetings and conventions, as they believe their churches have autonomous authority to deal with how they handle and address Pentecostal and charismatic expressions of worship. In fact, in many churches that are apart of the National Baptist Convention, and in many of their meetings and conventions across the United States, their adherents and clergy often practice, believe in, and exhibit the charismatic gifts of the Spirit that are practiced in Pentecostalism such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit in their worship services. They also make very consistent use of high-tempo Traditional Black Gospel and Contemporary Christian music in their worship style and practices as well.
Also, as many Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations adhere to Christian perfection teachings that originated from the Holiness movement, the National Baptist Convention does officially teach and believe in Christian perfection, and refers to it also as many Pentecostal denominations do as "sanctification."
Known to occur though infrequently, a state convention, district association or member church of NBCUSA may dually align with another organization. The autonomous make-up of the NBCUSA gives local congregations the latitude to govern itself and contribute to the causes of other religious bodies as it seems necessary and is led by the Spirit.
Some members dually align with the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention which offers the NBCUSA member a convention-wide focus on foreign missions.
The autonomous nature of the church allows the local congregation to decide its focus, interpret scripture and define its theology on issues not specified in the foundational truths of the Baptist Articles of Faith as well as dually align with a convention with a mission specialized on a specific issue.
The Joint Convention of National Baptists converge on an American city every four years and comprises the four Black Baptist Conventions. The other three member conventions all originated from or trace origin to NBCUSA and together the four groups represent over 17,000,000 African-American Baptists in America. This convention of National Baptists meet to harness the power and influence of their collective bodies for Christian missions and social action.